What Does Adverse Possession Mean in Real Estate?
Adverse possession is a concept that essentially allows someone to take ownership of land simply by using it. Although it’s obviously more complicated than that, it does eventually grant ownership to someone simply for using the land openly and continuously.
If you’re a property owner and you’re concerned about adverse possession, you need to learn more about it now and talk to an attorney. The longer you wait to assert your right to your own property, the harder it is to maintain ownership of it.
How Adverse Possession Happens
Adverse possession has strict requirements in each jurisdiction. In Maryland, someone who wants to gain ownership this way must occupy the land for a full 20 years without interruption. Someone may take possession by making a mistake and truly thinking they own the land in question, live on the land with or without knowing that it is someone else’s property, or know that they are trespassing.
The person must treat the land as their land and do so openly, without attempting to hide it. For someone to take adverse possession of a piece of property, they cannot share possession with others and the 20 years of occupation must be uninterrupted.
There are several ways adverse possession can happen. Imagine, for example, a long-vacant piece of land next to a home. The homeowner builds a garage there and uses it for 20 years, assuming it’s their property. If the owner of that land comes to reclaim it after more than 20 years, the neighbor may claim ownership of it.
A common example of adverse possession is a fence that is over the property line, cutting off the edge of someone else’s property and allowing the neighbor to use it. A shed or other building built over the property line might also cause this to happen.
Issues Associated with Adverse Possession
There are obviously numerous issues associated with adverse possession. To start, if someone genuinely does not recognize the limits of their own property, they may not realize that someone else is using their land. By the time they do realize it, either via a survey or when they try to sell the home, it may be too late to reassert their right to their property. This puts the rightful owner of the land at a serious disadvantage.
Adverse possession can also lead to a very costly legal battle for everyone involved. This may seem unfair if the person using the land that isn’t theirs genuinely believed it was. This may be due to an incorrect survey or deed, or just an honest mistake.
If someone claims adverse possession and loses their claim, they then have to do whatever it takes to return the land to the rightful owner. This can get expensive very quickly.
Using the garage example above, the person who built the garage would be responsible for taking it down and returning the land to its prior state. Consider the time and expense involved in removing, for example, an in-ground pool that goes 10 feet over the neighbor’s property line. However, this just serves as proof that it’s crucial to double- and triple-check your property lines before investing in projects like these.
Preventing and Responding to Adverse Possession
If you own property, preventing adverse possession should be a priority for you. If you fail to keep an eye on your property and stay informed of your rights, you could find yourself losing your land to this little-known area of real estate law.
Time is of the essence with adverse possession, so you should take action immediately if you notice someone using your land without permission. This is especially important if someone is building something on your property or removing something from your property. The sooner you stop the project, the less invested they are in finishing it.
Property owners should do everything they can to maintain their property. This means not allowing it to look abandoned, paying property taxes, and keeping it in line with local laws and regulations. If someone fails to take care of a piece of land, it’s easier for another individual to claim that the property is abandoned.
It’s also highly recommended that you talk to a real estate attorney if you’re up against someone claiming adverse possession. This type of issue can become complicated and expensive very quickly, and the sooner you bring in professional help, the better your legal position will be.